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Cornell Student Pleads Innocent To Computer Worm Charges

August 2, 1989

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) _ A suspended graduate student accused of creating a computer ″worm″ that paralyzed an estimated 6,000 military and research computers last year pleaded innocent to a federal crime Wednesday.

Robert T. Morris, 24, of Arnold, Md., entered his plea in a five-minute arraignment before U.S. Magistrate Gustave DiBianco. He was released on his own recognizance.

The suspended Cornell University graduate student was charged last week with a single count of gaining unauthorized access to computers, preventing authorized access to computers and causing losses in excess of $1,000 under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986.

It was the first time the Justice Department brought felony charges against an individual under the 3-year-old law.

Morris said nothing during Wednesday’s court appearance, and ignored reporters’ questions as he was led into the U.S. marshal’s office to be fingerprinted and booked.

His attorney, Thomas Guidoboni of Washington, also had little to say.

″They did charge him, and now they have to prove it,″ Guidoboni said when asked about the merits of the government’s case.

According to prosecutors, Morris’ worm program last November clogged a computer network shared by colleges, research centers and the military. It took several days to eliminate the worm, a program that copies itself after being introduced into a computer system.

The rogue program was originally termed a computer ″virus,″ but unlike viruses it did not require a ″host″ program to reproduce.

Although the indictment charged the worm did more than $1,000 in damages, computer experts estimated that the time computers were down and the labor needed to combat the worm cost $5 million to $12 million.

Prosecutor Mark Rasch of the Justice Department declined to comment Wednesday on the extent of the damage done by the worm, saying the government would present details during the trial.

He said it was not the government’s intention to make an example out of Morris. If convicted, Morris could be sentenced to up to five years in prison, a $250,000 fine and paying restitution.

″We want to preserve the integrity of the government’s computer system - not just the government, but the entire computer community,″ said Rasch.

According to the indictment, Morris’s worm invaded computers at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Ames Research Center in California and the U.S. Air Force Logistics Command at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, as well as dozen of universities.

Morris’ trial before U.S. District Judge Howard Munson is not expected to begin before next year, attorneys said.

Morris, who has been on leave, has been given a one-year suspension from Cornell beginning in September.

His father is chief computer scientist for the National Computer Security Center near Baltimore.

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